Lori Lightfoot, a former federal prosecutor-turned-corporate lawyer and police reformer, overwhelmingly won Chicago’s mayoral race on Tuesday, becoming one of several firsts for the country’s third-largest city.
Lightfoot, a 56-year-old first-time candidate for office, will be Chicago’s first black female mayor and its first openly gay mayor as well as its first mayor in nearly 100 years who wasn’t born in Chicago. She is Chicago’s first female mayor since the ’80s and only its second female mayor ever.
Her opponent, Toni Preckwinkle, is one of the city’s top politicians. Not much separated them politically, according to the Chicago Tribune, so “the race largely boiled down to change versus experience.”
In a thank-you message on her campaign website after her victory, Lightfoot described her win as “a historic achievement and the start of a new day for our diverse, incredible city.”
Lightfoot launched her bid last May, when the field was much more crowded. At the time, her most public role had been serving as president of Chicago’s civilian Police Board, which handles officer discipline.
“In order for Chicago to remain a world-class city, we need to forge a new path, in which equity and inclusion are our guiding principles. By almost every measure, we currently are headed in the wrong direction,” Lightfoot said at the time, according to the Tribune. “All over Chicago, people feel the effects of the us-versus-them style of governance. Investing here, but not there. Providing advantages to some, but not others. Listening to a few, but ignoring far too many. That mentality and style of governance ends the day I am sworn in as mayor.”
In the nearly year since announcing her candidacy, Lightfoot emerged as the favored choice for voters disaffected with Chicago’s famed (and infamous) political machine.
In the fall, federal authorities accused a top alderman, Ed Burke, of extortion. Burke was connected with several of Lightfoot’s challengers, including Preckwinkle, whom she would go on to beat on Tuesday. (Burke “has denied any wrongdoing,” according to the New York Times.)
“This may not be the outcome we wanted, but while I may be disappointed, I’m not disheartened,” Preckwinkle said after her loss, per the Tribune. “For one thing, this is clearly a historic night. Not long ago, two African-American women vying for this position would have been unthinkable. And while it may be true we took different paths to get here, tonight is about the path forward.”
According to the Tribune, Lightfoot is a “self-styled progressive” whose key issues include expanding affordable housing across Chicago, police reform and increasing taxation on law, accounting and hotel businesses to fund the city’s pension and local arts.
“Today, you did more than make history,” she said after her win, the Tribune reports. “You created a movement for change.”
“My parents didn’t have much money, but they had their dignity and their dreams, dreams for their children, dreams for me,” Lightfoot said. “They taught me the value of honesty, decency, hard work and education, and they gave me faith, the faith that put me where I am today.”
According to her website, Lightfoot shares a 10-year-old daughter, Vivian, with wife Amy Eshleman. They live in northwest Chicago.
While Lightfoot’s sexuality was not a significant dynamic in the mayoral race, according to the Tribune, it was not ignored. Lightfood mentioned it in her victory remarks Tuesday.
In an interview last year, after announcing her candidacy, she said: “People know that judging someone on the basis of who they love is not, should never be, a barrier to participation in public life and we have been embraced wherever we are.
“I’m sure there’s some folks that still have notions that are different — but look, I am a lesbian. I am married to a woman, we have a child, we have family. I have a coming-out story that’s probably very similar to lots of people who are my age: fear of being rejected, fear of losing your family and friends. I went through all of that, that fear and what that does to you is pretty profound. I’m lucky to say my worst fears weren’t realized.”